Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman resigned on Sunday from his
positions as foreign minister and deputy prime minister on Sunday, due
to the pending indictment against him for fraud and breach of public trust. The resignation will take effect on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
after he handed in his letter of resignation, the foreign minister
asserted that his break will be short. "I am leaving temporarily" he
said, after what he described as four very interesting years in the
Liberman said that he was not concerned about
the trial ahead of him and hoped the process would be quick. He also said that he wants a trial rather than a plea bargain, making it very unlikely that the legal process will be complete by the time the government is formed in March.
that every move he had made was for the good of the public and the break
would give him time to focus on elections. "Israel needs a strong prime
minister with a clear majority," rather than having to rely on sliver
parties, he stated.
The foreign minister confirmed on Saturday
night that he had not resigned from the Knesset or as chairman of
Yisrael Beytenu, and was still running in the election with the hope of
getting a top ministerial position in the next government, assuming
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu forms the next coalition.
officials said that they wont hide Liberman in the campaign and that he
will play a central role. They added that they appreciated his
resignation because it enables the election to return to key diplomatic
and security issues rather than focusing on Liberman.
announced Friday that he would be stepping down, hours after Meretz
filed a petition asking the High Court of Justice to order his
In a statement published by his office, Liberman
said his legal counsel advised him he did not have to resign.
Nonetheless, he said he would do so in order to fight the charges
against him, thereby enabling him to serve in the next government if
exonerated. Liberman has denied all wrongdoing and called for expedited
To this end, Liberman said he would
immediately drop his parliamentary immunity, “so that after 16 years
during which investigations have been carried out against me, I can
conclude this matter quickly, without delay and clear my name.
am also doing this because I am convinced Israeli citizens have the
right to go to the polls with this matter already having been decided,”
he said, in the hope the legal proceedings against him are concluded
before the January 22 election.
Liberman added that he hopes he
will be able to continue serving Israel “as part of a strong and united
leadership in order to face the security, diplomatic and economic
challenges that the State of Israel is facing.”
A source close to
Liberman expressed optimism that a plea bargain could be reached before
the election. The source said the State Attorney’s Office and Liberman
both believed this was possible.
In the worst-case scenario for
Liberman, if a plea bargain is not reached by the time the next
government is formed in February or March, the High Court or
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein could rule that Liberman cannot become
a minister. He could also be suspended from the Knesset, pending the
conclusion of the legal proceedings.
The prime minister spoke
with Liberman on Friday afternoon ahead of his resignation announcement,
telling the foreign minister that he hopes he will “prove his innocence
as quickly as possible” and quickly return to a senior position in the
A source in the Prime Minister’s Office said
Netanyahu would retain the title of foreign minister until the next
government is formed, dispelling rumors that a Likud minister such as
Vice Premier Silvan Shalom or Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor would be
given the post.
According to Israeli constitutional processes, when a minister resigns, his deputy automatically resigns with him.
and Liberman both want Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon to remain
in his post, so Netanyahu is expected to ask the Knesset to approve
Liberman’s decision follows Weinstein’s
surprise announcement on Thursday that he will charge the foreign
minister not only with breach of trust, but also with fraud, in a 2008
case involving obstruction of justice by former ambassador to Belarus
Ze’ev Ben- Aryeh.
It was widely predicted that Liberman would be
charged with breach of trust for allegedly not revealing that Ben- Aryeh
leaked information to him regarding a separate investigation against
him when he visited the ambassador in Belarus in 2008. But the charge
that by allegedly helping Ben-Aryeh advance to two additional positions
in the Foreign Ministry as “payment” for Ben-Aryeh’s leaking classified
information to Liberman, he had committed fraud, came as a surprise.
the same time, Weinstein decided to close the “main” case against
Liberman, regarding wider and more serious allegations of
money-laundering millions of dollars, fraud and other allegations from
2001 to 2008.
Weinstein took the first step in the indictment
process on Thursday when he sent the indictment text to Knesset Speaker
Reuven Rivlin, asking him to remove Liberman’s parliamentary immunity so
the indictment could be filed in court. But Liberman’s announcement
that he was waiving his immunity preempted Rivlin and the Knesset taking
action, which could have been put off by up to 30 days.
to Liberman’s resignation, a Meretz spokesman said the party would
withdraw the petition once he actually handed in his resignation or upon
a decision by the court, whichever came first.
Leaders from the Center-Left praised Liberman’s decision to resign.
Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich welcomed Liberman’s move, saying the
indictment had “severely undermined the rule of law and the public’s
trust in its elected leadership and democracy.” She said that “he who is
indicted cannot serve even one day as a public emissary.”
Labor leader said she would not sit in a government in which anyone
under indictment served, and called on the heads of all political
parties to boycott any such cabinet.
The No. 2 candidate on The
Tzipi Livni Party’s electoral list, Amram Mitzna, called Weinstein’s
ruling the most severe condemnation of an Israeli public figure ever. He
urged the public to read it to understand who the No. 2 man in the
Likud Beytenu joint list really was.
“The public should ask
itself if it wants a government with Liberman after this lethal
indictment,” Mitzna said. “Public figures who want to lead must be clean
beyond all doubt. If he remains a Knesset candidate, I hope it makes
Likud Beytenu supporters rethink their votes.”Charles Bybelezer, Michael Omer-Man, Ben Hartman and Reuters contributed to this story.